Some high functioning alcoholics are also the major or even the only breadwinner in the family...

Some high functioning alcoholics are also the major or even the only breadwinner in the family. What advice do you have for the stay-at-home spouse who has little or no access to funds to pay for legal and other professional fees if he or she has decided on divorce?

By Allison Williams
April 26, 2016
Some high functioning alcoholics are also the major or even the only breadwinner in the family.

In New Jersey there is the provision in our court rules for the payment of council fees for one party to the other in circumstances where one party may not have access to resources. So, the resources that are accumulated during their marriage are considered marital property and they're going to be equitably divided. And there is case law that says in order to effectuate that equitable distribution or property as well as to determine what is fair and appropriate for spousal support, custody, and other issues in the divorce, you must have the parties on an equal playing field. You need to have them able to retain attorneys as well as to assert positions.

So, what normally happens in those cases is the stay-at-home parent has the same types of limitations, whether the person’s spouse is an addict, or mentally impaired, or whether it's a quote, normal case. You're going to have to in some way get access to resources, whether through your spouse or through perhaps borrowing from a friend or family member or even taking out a credit card to at least get somebody on retainer and get a lawyer that can start the process for you. Then after, immediately go into court and seek legal fees from your spouse.

If that's not an option what I often tell people to do is use the resources that you have available before you actually file for divorce. You're as much entitled to the resources that you used during your marriage to use for your attorney and used for your litigation expenses as you were entitled to use them for groceries or other household expenses. So, you have to be careful not to dissipate any resources in your marriage. But most judges are not going to hold it against you if you take money out of a joint bank account or if you in other ways use your assets, and sell perhaps some of your assets, so you can get resources to litigate at least until your spouse is being held responsible through the court system or by consent to fund your litigation.

Allison C. Williams is a matrimonial and family law attorney serving Short Hills New Jersey. Her practice places an emphasis on complex child welfare matters You can read more about her work in her bio.

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